Last month, Transparency International (TI) published its UK Anti-Corruption Pledge Tracker. We are reminded that the 2016 Anti-Corruption Summit saw leaders come together and make pledges that, if properly implemented, have real potential to reduce corruption across the world. The World Bank estimates that businesses and individuals pay an estimated $1.5 trillion in bribes each year.
TI laments the fact that no formal accountability mechanism was agreed to ensure that governments are kept accountable for the promises that were made. It has launched a “pledge tracker” to monitor progress – or lack of it – on the commitments the UK made. Commitments are marked with a status report of Overdue, Pending, Underway, and Complete. The current status report being: 40% Complete; 13.3% Underway; 26.7% Pending; and, 20% Overdue.
One of the “Completed” objectives is the introduction of an “Unexplained Wealth Order” (UWO). This was introduced under the Criminal Finance Act 2017 and was a key outcome of the Anti-Corruption Summit. The Attorney General’s Office is currently consulting on the procedure for the UWO as part of a wider consultation on revised codes of practice under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 which is reformed by the Criminal Finance Act. (See our related blog).
The Pledge Tracker may be useful in putting pressure on the Government to meet its commitments or at least serve as a helpful reminder of what those were. For example, the Government pledged to develop a cross-government Anti-Corruption Strategy by the end of 2016. This is now overdue and has still not been published.
Speaking in the House of Lords on 10 July, Lord McNally asked the Government what plans it has to update the anti-corruption strategy. He noted that it was overdue by more than a year and asked if Lord Young was aware that “there are voices around which suggest that Brexit is an opportunity for Britain to hoist the Jolly Roger and buccaneer its way around the world with scant regard to things like bribery or money laundering?”. He urged the Government to send out a clear message that the UK is a “beacon of integrity” by bringing the strategy forward. In response, Lord Young confirmed that a “near-final draft” was being prepared with the hope that it would be published “shortly”. He also confirmed that the Government hopes to appoint a new Anti-Corruption Champion to replace Sir Eric Pickles when he stood down at this year’s General Election.
Lord McNally is not alone in his concerns. In March, the OECD highlighted concerns that the fight against corruption and bribery in the UK could be set back as a result of Brexit and the concomitant uncertainty about future applicability of EU rules in respect of money laundering and sanctions, as well as questions around future international cooperation via EU mechanisms such as Europol and Eurojust.
Of course, the Brexit referendum result means that many Government commitments are on hold and issues that were deemed important last year lose some urgency or significance. Whilst we await a new Anti-Corruption Tsar and publication of the Government’s strategy, the TI Tracker reminds the Government that its pledges have not been forgotten and TI is keeping watch.